Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

Freshman kicker Drzewiecki’s performance of a silver lining for Lobos

Nobody has to tell Danny Gonzales, a former special-teams coach, how important it is for a football team to have a reliable kicker.

Nor did anyone need to tell Gonzales that his kickers were 22-of-38 on field goal attempts, a horrid 57.8%, through his first 25 games as head coach at the University of New Mexico.

Through the first six games of the 2022 season, the numbers were 4-of-10.

Then, last Saturday night in Las Cruces, when nothing else was going right for the Lobos, Luke Drzewiecki stepped up. The true freshman from suburban Detroit was a perfect 3-of-3, providing UNM with its only points in a 21-9 loss to arch-rival New Mexico State.

Through the Lobos’ first six games, Drzewiecki had shared kicking duties with Los Alamos senior George Steinkamp. But Steinkamp was 0-for-2, one of them blocked, in UNM’s 27-14 loss to Wyoming on Oct. 8th.

Drzewiecki had gone 1-for-3 in his previous attempts. But when the Lobos’ first drive against NMSU stalled at the Aggies’ 27-yard line, Gonzales sent him onto the field. He calmly booted a 44-yarder with room to spare.

He followed with makes from 33 and 41 yards, all no-doubters.

Luke Drzewiecki

There’s more, the just turned 19-year-old said, where those came from.

“Kicking’s a simple job,” he said in an interview on the UNM practice field as the Lobos (2-5, 0-3 Mountain West Conference) prepared for Saturday’s home game against Fresno State (2-4, 1-1). “If you make it hard on yourself, it’ll be hard, it’ll feel difficult. (But) as long as you keep your head clear, don’t think about anything too much, it’s an easy job.”

Drzewiecki and Steinkamp are walk-ons, but Gonzales said he wouldn’t hesitate to award a scholarship to a top-level high school kicker – or, for that matter, a punter or a deep snapper. The problem, he said, is that it’s a highly competitive market these days.

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The top prospects turned out by kicking gurus Chris Sailer and Jamie Kohl, Gonzales said, “are becoming a greater commodity, so they’re getting offers from a lot of big schools.”

The Lobos have had some highly successful kickers who came to UNM on scholarship. Gonzales mentioned Wes Zunker, recruited to UNM in 2001, when Gonzales was a graduate assistant on the staff of head coach Rocky Long. Bob Davie brought Jason Sanders to Albuquerque in 2014. Sanders is now in his fifth year with the NFL’s Miami Dolphins.

Drzewiecki’s route to Albuquerque, though, is more typical for a UNM kicker. He was a soccer player at Utica Eisenhower High School in Shelby Township, Michigan.

“My friend’s dad was special-teams coach at our high school,” Drzewiecki said. “He just said, ‘Come on, we’ll get you kicking.”

It so happened that UNM special-teams coordinator Jamie Christian was well acquainted with Drzewiecki’s high school coach.

“I came out here (on a visit),” Drzewiecki said, “and I loved speaking with coach (David) Howes, coach G (Gonzales) and coach Christian. I loved touring the facilities, and this is a good place to be.”

Of the Lobos’ two kickers, Steinkamp is said to have the stronger leg and handles kickoffs. He’d been the designated long field goal kicker as well. But, Gonzales said, Drzewiecki’s made field goal of 44 yards at NMSU “would have been good from about 53. I didn’t know we’d have that much distance going into it, but now I feel comfortable (kicking) from about the 33- to 35-yard line.”

A kicker, of course, is only as good as his last kick. But Drzewiecki exudes confidence.

“There’s no pressure kicking,” he said. “It’s kicking the ball straight, keeping yourself composed, keeping your breathing controlled and finishing your kick nice and smooth.”

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